Gods of the Godless
If the suits will allow it, let me borrow a page from Kris Kringle in Miracle on 34th Street and send some of National Review’s customers over to The Weekly Standard (the Gimbels to our Macy’s, as it were). In “The Heretic,” Andrew Ferguson has written a wonderful account of the secular riot of outrage and hysteria over Thomas Nagel’s new book, Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False.
Just to be clear, Nagel’s an atheist who wants God to be dead, but nonetheless he believes humans are more than “moist robots.”
The phrase “moist robots” is one of many popular terms used to describe the status of human beings under the prevailing philosophical dogma in academia today. You see, the big brains have boxed themselves into a corner. By their own design, unless you resort to “supernatural” explanations, you must believe that everything we believe and hold dear — love of family, patriotism, duty, kindness, compassion, charity, beauty, romance, loyalty of any and all kinds; everything good and noble and redeeming about human existence — can be boiled down to a bunch of molecules doing their soulless molecular dance.
To be fair, the philosophers concede that you can still have a personal morality or subscribe to a code of ethics of some kind, but such customs are just that: customs, without any external or objective justification outside the will of humans. Any attempt to justify these “emergent phenomena” as existing independent of the molecular Harlem Shake is, ultimately, oogah-boogah talk.
You’ll forgive me, I hope, if I don’t try to prove the existence of God or the transcendent in the space provided for me here. What fascinates me is the enduring power of theophobia. It’s no secret that the professional atheists go beyond mere nonbelief to an outright intolerance and hatred for all things religious. Less discussed is the role hatred of religion plays in other causes. Marx and Engels came to their Communism via atheism, not the other way around (“Criticism of religion is the prerequisite of all criticisms,” Marx proclaimed). Nietzsche “philosophized with a hammer” and there was nothing he relished more than the sound of stained glass shattering. The Jacobins were quick to turn the churches into “temples of reason.”
Of course, today’s philosophical materialists think that reason, too, is a mirage, or just another custom. Moist robots don’t think, they just do what they are programmed to do. (“Programmed by whom?” you ask. “Shut up!” they explain).
Perhaps the materialists are right and there’s nothing inside or outside us that rises above the level of mere opinion. Why not be cruel? What’s wrong with the Gestapo? Richard Rorty’s reply to such questions was that any answer invoking more than custom or opinion cast you as a member of the oogah-boogahing throng.
The problem — well, a problem — with this sort of argument is that the very Darwinian evolution the materialists divinize drives man to divinize things. If he doesn’t have a God above to worship, he will make do with a god below. “When God is invisible behind the world,” Eric Voegelin observed, “the contents of the world will become new gods.” This will be true, he added, even when “the new apocalyptics insist that the symbols they create are scientific.”
It’s one of the peculiar ironies of history that the people most eager to hang the priests are those most eager to replace them.